Among the annals of ignored yet important Sanskrit inscriptions is the “Nagpur Museum Stone inscription” also called as the “Nagpur Prashasti” presently located, as its name suggests in a museum in Nagpur, Maharashtra. The inscription was commissioned by a ruler called Naravarmadeva. At least 20 lines of this inscription are on a heroic emperor from Malwa called Paramara Lakshmadeva – the brother of Naravarma.
Verse 54 of this inscription is the most unique verse for any 11th-12th century Indian epigraph. It explicitly speaks about an intense battle across the Oxus river in Central Asia against the Islamic Turkish sultanates. The very fact that an Indian Hindu ruler had the gumption to attack some of the most powerful Islamic sultanates deep in their own homeland was so unbelievable in colonial and post-colonial times, that historians dismissed these claims as “poetic exaggerations”. However, there are more than sufficient grounds to believe that the verse has a lot of truth in it.
Firstly, what does the verse actually say? To quote the translation of Sanskrit scholar Buddha Prakash (1965)
“Being encamped on the banks of the Vankshu (Oxus), which were even softer than nature made them because the saffron filaments on them were withering under the rolling of the teams of frisky horses, presented by the Turushka, whom he had eradicated with ease. He taught the Kira chief to utter most flattering speeches who on account of the proximity of the Sarasvati was eloquent beyond measure and who was like a parrot shut up in a big cage…”
The verse talks about a military encampment of Paramara Lakshmadeva on the banks of the River Oxus in Turkestan; a defeat of the Turushka (Turks) and a surrender of another ruler called the Kira chief. This was the first time an inscription from the 11th-12th century explicitly spoke about an Indian military presence and battle in Central Asia within striking distance of the great Uzbek city and pan-Islamic centre of Termez.
Modern historians, schooled subconsciously in the colonial narrative of Hindu weakness and passiveness were quick to dismiss or ignore this verse. Buddha Prakash himself concluded, without any reasons, that this verse was a copy of the popular Indian Maha-Kavya – “Raghuvamsa” of Kalidasa and had no actual basis. D. C. Ganguly, another celebrated historian identified Kira with Kangra and placed this battle in the Himachal mountains. A few other translators were also wonderstruck by this verse that they conveniently translated Vankshu as Sindhu even though the original inscription very clearly depicts the word “Vanksu/Vankshu”.
Why Verse 54 is not a copy of the Raghuvamsa:
All these dismissals by modern historians lack any objective basis. For example, Buddha Prakash’s contention that the verse was a copy of the Raghuvamsa does not hold water when we actually compare the two texts. The literary style and structuring is completely different between the two relevant verses. Even the content is strikingly different. For benefit of readers, both verses are presented:
Raghuvamsa: literal translation (without parenthesis of context) of verse 66-68 as translated by G.R.Nandargikar (1982 ed)
“His horses, that had lessened their fatigues of the road by turning from side to side on the banks of the river Vankshu, shook their shoulders to which were clung the filaments of saffron…
…There the power of which was clearly seen in the husbands of the young women in the inner apartments of the camps of the Huna Kings, proved a teacher of ruddiness in their cheeks…”
As we can see, the complete context of Verse 54 of the Nagpur prashasti and verse 66-68 of the Raghuvamsa are completely different. In fact, the only common words are the Vankshu, horses and saffron fields. These are extremely common geographical markers of the Oxus Valley. For example, two different authors may mention Himachal Pradesh, Himalayas and apples – the last two popular words associated with Himachal Pradesh – in two completely different books – but this does not mean that one is the copy of the other.
Other than this direct comparison which shows that the Nagpur prashasti is not a copy of the Raghuvamsa, we may also logically question why Naravarmadeva was the only ruler of 11th and 12th century Bharat who could think of fictionally copying the Raghuvamsa to cover his brother’s achievements, if it was so easy to write such a copied prashasti, then why did other contemporary kings not do the same? Why didn’t other contemporary Hindu rulers not write inscriptions claiming that they have attacked Turkestan and fought in the Oxus?
In short it is clearly proven that Verse 54 of the Nagpur prashasti is not a fictional copy but the actual recounting of historical events.
Why “Kira in verse 54 does not refer to Kangra:
D.C Ganguly’s hypothesis of Kira being Kangra also does not pass the objectivity test. The verse clearly links the surrender of the Kira King after the defeat of the Turushkas and the encampment at the Oxus river. There is no instance of any traditional account of Digvijaya of the “northern quarter” which places Kangra immediately after the Vankshu. Such a geographical jump is neither there in the campaigns of Arjuna and Karna in the Mahabharata nor in the campaigns of Raghu in the Raghuvamsa.
The proximity of the “Sarasvati” has been taken by some historians to mean that the Kira can be identified with Kangra. But Kangra is not on the banks of the ancient Sarasvati river of Bharat. By the 12th century CE, the river courses had long been dry. If we also look at verse 54 itself, the Kira chief is said to be in proximity of Sarasvati. It is not specifically mentioned whether this is a geographical marker or just a statement emphasising the intellectual skills of the Kira chief. There are strong reasons to ascribe this to a geographical feature as Goddess Sarasvati would have been more explicitly mentioned.
Even if we believe that this is a water body mentioned, it was very common for several places in Central and South East Asia to be renamed after locations in Bharat due to ancient Indian cultural influence on these lands. Examples are Ayuttha (after Ayodhya) in Thailand, Kashi/Kashgar (after Kashi) in Xinjiang, etc. So when ancient Indians established Kingdoms and settlements in Central Asia, a river there could have been called Sarasvati in duplication of the river found in the settlers native land of Bharat.
There is also no evidence of Ghaznavid rule over Kangra region in the early years of the 12th century CE.
In short, we cannot identify Kira with Kangra.
So verse 54 actually talks about a Paramara surgical strike:
After objectively analyzing all points of view, we can conclude that verse 54 of the Nagpur Prashasti actually speaks of a true historic military expedition by the Paramaras of Bharat against three Turkish Sultanates – Ghaznavids, Seljuks and Kara Khanid. In fact if we look at the geopolitical conditions in Asia in those years, we find verse 54 very clearly and logically fitting the geopolitical narrative of a Paramara counter offensive deep into Turkestan across the northern extremities of Afghanistan into present day Uzbekistan.
Background to the Counter-offensive of Lakshmadeva:
In the first three decades of the 11th century, Mahmud of Ghazni – a fanatical Islamic Turkish ruler, invaded Bharat several times, subjecting her civilians to mass murder and desecrating her temples. He faced severe resistance from Indian Hindu dynasties such as the Shahiyas, Paramaras, Chandellas, Jat chiefs of Punjab – but was able to pick vulnerable spots in the subcontinent for him to break through and carry an iconoclastic war against the “unbelievers” of his Islamic faith. After him, his descendants called the Ghaznavids maintained their position in Punjab and some other parts of north-western India. They had to however face severe counter offensives and defeats at the hands of confederacy of Indian rulers like in Bharaich (1034 CE) and Eastern Punjab (1043 CE). A sea-saw struggle raged between the Turkish Ghaznavids and the rulers of Bharat for another 6 decades.
Around 1075, a new aggressive Amir called Mahmud became governor of Punjab and led several attacks on the Indian heartland. He was defeated by the Paramaras and this was one of the reasons he was replaced by Amir Uz-ud-Daulah by the end of the 11th century. Around 1099 CE, Mahmud’s overlord, Sultan Ibrahim of Ghazni passed away resulting in a period of political confusion. Alau-Daulah Masud, the new Sultan took time to adjust to the political realities. Taking advantage of strife in the Ghaznavid kingdom, the Seljuks of Iran annexed the Oxus valley from the former. Extending their power, they also extended their rule over the Kara-Khanid dynasty of Central Asia who were centred around Samarkand.
Unlike other Hindu rulers of his time, Paramara Lakshmadeva did not sit idle at the opportunity the political confusion in Ghazni, Balkh and Samarkand presented. The invasion of Mahmud had been recently repulsed, and the Paramara hero wanted to build on the momentum by leading a counter-strike into the lion’s den – into the native lands of the Ghaznavids, Seljuks and Kara Khanids themselves. In modern lingo- “Dushman ke Ghar mein Ghus ke marna”.
The deep strikes in Turkestan:
Passing via the Punjab and through the Khyber, fighting across the Afghan mountains and dashing past the plains of Balkh-Kunduz, the Paramara warriors inflicted severe defeats on the Turks. So badly were the Ghaznavid and Seljuk Turks defeated, that not only were their senior command “eradicated” and their prized horses surrendered but also the Seljuk influence over the Kara Khanids temporarily collapsed. The Kira chief hence refers to the Kara Khanid ruler and references to him being a “caged parrot” in verse 54 fit perfectly with the fact of vassalage of this dynasty to the Seljuks.
It is significant that the verse explicitly puts an encampment of the Paramaras in the saffron plains on the banks of the Oxus. This encampment, from a geographical perspective would have been within a striking distance of the city of Termez, situated in present day Surxondaryo region of Uzbekistan. This was a great religious, intellectual and pilgrimage centre for Islam revered by all Turkish dynasties.
The Counter-Offensive against three Turkish dynasties with a history of invasions or with aspirations to invade Bharat, the explicit encampment of the Indian army in the heart of Turkestan and the clear Indian military threat to the Islamic citadel of Termez clearly brings out the strategic outlook of Lakshmadeva. The entire political and religious class of Turkestan, known historically as hostile to Bharat and Sanatana Dharma was put on notice. If they could invade Hind and cause chaos, the Hindu armies of Bharat were equally adept at fighting back and striking deep at their most revered religious and political centres. The fact that the location of the Paramara encampment was so openly disclosed in a public record also hints at an element of psychological warfare.
In terms of political significance, the Turkish powers who surrendered or were defeated by Lakshmadeva were the rulers of present day Iran, Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, Tarim and Afghanistan. This is a classic example of a pre-emptive strike to deter future invasions.
During the entire period of his campaign, Lakshmadeva’s brother, Naravarma secured the throne in Malwa against internal and external rivals by ruling under the name of his brother. In an act of selfless brotherly devotion reminiscent of Lord Rama and Bharata, Naravarmadeva did not usurp the throne despite the long periods of absence of Lakshmadeva in distant far-away lands. This is in sharp contrast to various invaders of Bharat from the Ghaznavids and Ghurids to the Abdalis – fratricide and rival claimants to the throne when the ruler was on campaign is a constant feature.
The stunning success of Paramara Lakshmadeva in Turkestan made Bharat have a respite from Turkish attacks for another decade and a half. Even when they did attack later, they were met with severe resistance from the Gahadavalas. Weakened by these counter-offensives, the Ghaznavid stronghold of Lohavara or Lahore was stormed by Gahadavala Govindachandra in the early 12th century CE. Till the last decade of the 12th century CE, the Turkish invaders continued to be on the backfoot.
But then in 1192 CE, a Persianate Islamic invader, Muhammad of Ghor broke through Indian defences in Tarain. And ere long a cataclysmic flood swept down the fair plains of Bharat. Shocked and ravaged, the ancient land of Bharatvarsha soon gathered its wits and resisted. Heroes and heroines of resistance down the centuries fought with their lives to preserve the unbroken continuity of the ancient Sanatana civilization….
There are many more achievements of Paramara Lakshmadeva that can be inferred from the inscription and also other traditions across the subcontinent. There is a crying need to research more and resurrect this heroic avenger of Bharat’s honour from the mists of history.
More details on Paramara Lakshmadeva’s campaign are provided in the book written by the author – “Bharat’s Military Conquests in Foreign lands”. Available at Subbu Publications at https://subbupublications.com
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